Winter White Russian Hamsters

Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Suborder: Myomorpha
Superfamily: Muroidea
Family: Cricetidae
Subfamily: Cricetinae
Genus: Phodopus
Species: P. sungorus
Binomial name
Phodopus sungorus
(Pallas, 1773)

Phodopus sungorus sungorus (see text)

Winter White Russian hamsters are a species of Hamster in the genus Phodopus. They are typically half the size of the better-known Syrian hamster, and therefore called dwarf hamsters along with all Phodopus species. Features include a typically thick dark grey dorsal stripe and furry feet. The tail is so short that it hardly shows when the hamster is sitting. As winter approaches and the days shorten, Winter Whites' dark fur is moulted and replaced with a coat which is almost completely white (hence the name). In the wild, this adaptation helps them evade predators in the snow-covered steppes of winter. They live mainly in Siberia and are also found in Dzungaria, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Manchuria.

It has been debated whether the Winter White hamster was a sub-species of the Campbell's Dwarf Hamster (Phodopus campbelli) or not; however, recently it was decided that Winter Whites are of their own species, Phodopus sungorus.

The average lifespan of the Winter White Russian Dwarf Hamster is 1½ to 2 years, although they can live longer.


Pet Ownership

Winter Whites are often found on the pet market, in Japan and Europe more so than in North America and indeed are rarely found in pet stores in Canada. Care is similar to that of the Campbell's Dwarf Hamster. Winter White hamsters make good pets for teens or adults, not for younger children. They are usually more friendly to humans than other hamsters, and are less likely to bite. Due to a hamsters poor eyesight the risk of falling or jumping off your hand is high. Compared to other dwarf hamsters, they are also more aggressive and territorial to their cage mates. Winter White hamsters which could have some Campbells ancestry should not be fed food containing sources of monosaccharides because of the risk of developing diabetes mellitus[2].
Feeding your Winter White properly is very important. They need to have constant access to a properly formulated hamster food. Most major brands provide all the nutrition a little hammy needs, and they should live a very long life on those alone. That said, you can of course supplement with small amounts of healthy treats such as carrots, broccoli, washed dandelion leaves, and most other vegetables that are not over-ripe (but very very small amounts of iceberg lettuce). Occasional ham and chicken (very small amounts) is appreciated as well. Avoid sticky foods, apart from a very small amount of cooled thick porridge (which they love, and is very good for them as an occasional treat) especially in their old age. Uneaten fresh food should be removed daily. Beware that some flowers found in domestic houses and gardens are poisonous to hamsters.[3]

Water is the most important of all, as fresh water is needed regularly. You must make sure to change the water in the bottle at least once a week. If travelling with a hamster, remove the bottle so it doesn't drip, but add a piece of fruit or veg with a high water-content (such as cucumber) to their cage for the journey, and replace their bottle as soon as you arrive.


In general, dwarf hamsters typically have more of a family structure than the Syrian Hamster. However, this may be a result of a frequent confusion of the Winter Whites and the Campbell's hamsters. Current research suggests biparental care in Campbell's hamsters (Phodopus campbelli) but not in Winter Whites (Phodopus sungorus).[4] Some report that same-sex pairs and larger groups do not always get along well and frequent fighting may occur and be a great distress for them, or even lead to death. Most winter white dwarf hamsters grow to 3 to 4" long. In the winter their fur turns almost completely white. They usually breed between April and September.


There are several phases (colorations) of Winter White hamsters: their normal (dark brownish-grey colouring) or sapphire (blue-grey colouring). A white pattern called pearl (white with coloured hairs) sometimes exists in either phase, producing the normal pearl or sapphire pearl forms. However, these colours may be difficult to find, and the range of colours is much narrower than in the case of the Campbell's.

Winter White hamsters, also called Siberian hamsters, come from the steppes of Siberia and Kazakhstan and possess an adaptation not seen in Campbells: they can moult into a white winter coat. This camouflages them against the snow and also gives them their name. This moulting is brought on by the amount of day light; if the hamster is kept in an environment with is mediated through the nocturnal secretion of melatonin, the hormone.

Campbell's/Winter White Hybrids

Of the five species kept commonly as pets, only the Campbells and Winter Whites are able to interbreed and produce live offspring (hybrids). Hybrids are most often unknowingly produced through incorrect identification of the two similar species of hamsters, and unfortunately the number of hybrids is increasing particularly within pet shops in many countries today where they are often mislabeled as being one or other of the pure species.

Although hybrids make suitable pets, the breeding of hybrids should be avoided as it can cause health and birthing problems, and also the widespread breeding and distribution of hybrids could threaten the existence of both pure species in captivity. Therefore, if intending to breed Russian hamsters, it is important to ensure that both hamsters being bred are a pure form of and of the same species to avoid producing hybrids.


  1. ^ Tsytsulina, K. (2008). Phodopus sungorus. 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2008. Retrieved on 14 Jule 2009. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is of least concern.
  2. ^ Food for your hamster
  3. ^ Hamsterlopaedia by Chris and Peter Logsdail
  4. ^ Research by Dr. Katherine Wynne-Edwards at Queen's University, Ontario, Canada

External links